Deeply personal

I have no wish to add to the commentary on the disaster in Nepal caused by a major earthquake yesterday, and followed by numerous aftershocks and at least two other significant quakes of well over 6 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

There is a wealth of information, distressing and tragic images and news updates as casualty figures rise. It is an overwhelming tragedy and the coming days critical as a picture emerges of the extent of the situation, including the remoter areas nearer the epicentre. Information is aplenty and I do not plan to add to it.

My words are about how deeply personal this tragedy is, and that is for me at a distance, physically removed from the situation. However, I am strongly connected having lived in Nepal for approaching six years. Nepal, and especially Kathmandu hold a very precious place in my heart. I am struggling to process this.

This earthquake is not unexpected. We have long known that a major earthquake is due, or even overdue. Nepal sits on a highly seismic line, which give us the spectacular Himalayas as a result of the tectonic plates shifting through history. We have long feared an earthquake of this scale but we have always hoped that it would not happen.

When I first arrived in Kathmandu in July 2000, fresh off an overnight flight from Scotland, to take up a new job in a country I had never been to, I was spellbound by the city. But even in my first few days, I started hearing about “the earthquake”. I quickly learned that Nepal is highly vulnerable, and that Kathmandu particularly was in a highly precarious position. The population density, fragility of many buildings and concentrated construction on top of a ground which used to be the floor of a lake and now prone to liquefaction all being factors which would intensify the impact of an earthquake. I soon became very aware of earthquake risk, but did not know what to do in the event of a tremor. I did not have to wait long before I was pushed into action. The deep Gujurat earthquake in January 2001 caused swaying of buildings and dizziness in beings even as far as Nepal. Not long after, in July we had a rattling 5.9 earthquake while I was lying in my bed dozing off one Monday night. As the shaking intensified, I realised I had no clue what to do and I was lying there thinking”what-do-I-do-I-need-to-shelter-in-a-doorway-or-is-it-under-the-bed-or-should-I-run-outside?” when I realised that the shaking had stopped. Nothing had been damaged, but there were shouts of “bhuichalo” (earthquake in Nepali) outside, dogs were frantic, people gathering outside and I settled on my rooftop balcony feeling safer on top of a building than in it, and unwilling go to back to bed in case a bigger one came.

That night there was no further seismic action, nor was there much sleep. My paralysis when the earthquake started galvanised me to learn more and without doubt prepared me for future earthquake experiences, and in particular the 2004 quake which caused the massive tsunami. We were in Port Blair in the Andaman Islands on that day and returned to Kathmandu a few days later, with an intensified dread of the anticipated “big one” which we knew was already overdue.

There have been a number of deadly quakes in Nepal in recent decades, but the last massive one was in 1934 measuring 8.4. Seismology experts have calculated that a quake above 7 on the Richter scale is likely every 60 – 80 years. Hence the sense that a “big one” was overdue or imminent. Returning from a major earthquake, into a vulnerable area caused incredible stress. This was not an irrational fear, but a very real likelihood. We just had no idea when it might happen. We developed a plan of action for when such an earthquake came including a rendez vous point and communication back up. One particular friend and I worked through which supplies to hold, and which necessities to stock and a plan of action.  When she visited me in Yangon, she told me how that had now become a plan which she had jointly developed with a small number of friends in Kathmandu. They would join forces, each with different supplies if needed.

We left Nepal in November 2005, and a major reason was the vulnerability to earthquake. We had moved house to a safer place, but still felt that the risk was high and when the opportunity arose for work in Mongolia this was welcome. But I am still highly aware, and have written of earthquakes and mentioned more than once, that one of the reasons we are so taken with our home here is because it is small and likely to be safer in the event of a quake.

I was in a car heading home yesterday lunchtime, when hubby phoned and broke the news of the earthquake. As soon as I got home, I spent most of my time checking up online, seeking news of family and friends in the affected area. Having lived there for so long, and with family across the whole affected region, it was an overwhelming task trying to seek reassurance about so many people. There were so many updates from friends, family and former colleagues all over the world, desperately looking for information and sharing any updates they found. Thank heavens for social media. Although phone lines were mostly down, internet was more functional and soon messages came through from those who were safe and knew of others on Twitter and Facebook. In no time, #nepal and #earthquake were trending on Twitter. This morning we continued to receive news that loved ones are mostly unhurt. After the initial relief, we realise that many are homeless. Most spent the night outside, either under tents or on the roadside either because homes are destroyed or unsafe, or due to fear because of the aftershocks.

A great deal has been done in terms of preparedness in recent years, but the geography of the Kathmandu valley and population density are fundamental features which intensify the impact of the earthquake.  Hospital patients are being treated outside as there is no more space inside. Water and food will urgently become limited. One piece of welcome information was that although Kathmandu airport was closed to regular traffic, it was still able to function and late last night the first relief supplies arrived from India. The national and international communities have mobilised and a humanitarian effort underway with emergency coordination mechanisms already activated. A State of Emergency has been declared.

However, we still do not know the scale of the situation. The coming days are indeed critical, particularly given the strength and number of aftershocks on the weakened and fragile structures. Gradually we are learning more, and each new piece of information cuts deeper.

While I am protected from the immediacy of this catastrophe being at a distance, I cannot say that I am not affected.  This post is a personal, selfish catharsis from an individual trying to process and deal with the scale of this disaster. It is deeply personal.

We are holding the people of this Himalayan region close in our hearts at this time and holding out hope for a rapid, effective response reaching and treating casualties quickly and for a strong recovery.

Namaste.

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Life is too short NOT to have funky toenails!

I visited Paris for a long weekend a long time ago, probably approaching twenty odd years or so ago.  Clutching my copy of “Pauper’s Paris” I craned my neck over the crowds to see the Mona Lisa, gasped at the traffic on the Champs Elysées from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, tip-toed around the echoey Nôtre Dame Cathedral, bought a twee little cut-out of my silhouette fashioned in seconds by a Sacré Coeur artist and sipped café noir from the terasse of the Café de Deux Magots. Classic Paris experiences.  But of course, no visit to Paris is valid unless you see the Eiffel Tower and I was eagerly looking forward to the spectacular view of the city from its heights.  I knew that the stairs would be a climb, but the lift seemed too speedy and exposed and I naturally opted for the low tech and cheaper option.

buildings-eiffel-tower-paris

By the time I reached two or three twists in the iron stairway it was clear something was not right.  My head was looking forward to the views, but other parts of my body were not cooperating.  I was shaking, my heart was pounding and my legs were unable to hold me.  Worst of all was a bizarre and severe dizziness.  I looked upwards through the iron steps and an overwhelming wave of dizziness and nausea paralysed me.  I was escorted down the steps slowly and gently to gradually regain my equilibrium on terra firma. It took some time for the shaking to subside and even a look upwards towards the top of the Tower would bring an instant return of the dreadful dizziness.

Eiffel Tower steps

And that is how I learned I have a touch of vertigo! I know now what sets me off, and that aeroplanes are fine, steep mountainsides manageable if I look at the landward side and that if I am up high and I can see through to the ground below me (for example through the slats in an iron stairway or bridge) then I am in trouble.

Being offered a job in Nepal in 2000 was enormously exciting, but there was one Big Elephant in the Room.  Nepal has hills, nay mountains and not just any old mountains.  The Himalayas.  I knew that my job would take me to remote parts of the country, often on foot.  And that would invariably involve crossing narrow ravines, which would involve breath-taking, vertigo-inducing suspension bridges.

Kalibridge

In my five years plus in Nepal I crossed more suspension bridges than I could count, and every single one was a challenge.  It was well known that I dreaded journeys which involved these bridges, but there was not an alternative if I wanted to do my work.  I gradually developed a technique which got me over the bridges  even if every single one prompted the same trepidation. I knew that it helped to have someone walk directly in front of me, taking up most of my immediate field of vision.  I would focus on the back of that person and not let my eyes see either steepness and drop on either side, nor the ground underneath my feet.  I needed to trick my eyes and get myself across the bridge without the involuntary prompt that I knew would launch into a full scale vertigo attack.suspensionbridgenepal

So recent thoughts on seeking balance, and the image of a tightrope was in fact one very pertinent. A few days later, in the weekly #bcsm Twitter discussion, the topic of balance arose and I was immediately struck by one Tweet which quoted a saying that “life is a narrow bridge” and the trick is not to be afraid.

“Life is a very narrow bridge. The important thing is not to be afraid” Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

This instantly resonated, especially in the space which I am in at the moment.  Life is indeed a narrow bridge, and is sometimes pretty precarious.  At the moment I am balancing so many different things across the spectrum of personal, health, well being and professional.  How can I find that spot on the narrow bridge where I feel that I am taking enough well-being time without the pressures of tasks intruding into the healing space?  How do I deal with all of the things which are piling up for me to carry on my shoulders as I walk along my narrow bridge? How do I keep my eye on the road ahead and avoid slipping down the steep slopes around me?

I am do not mind admitting that I am afraid or anxious. In two weeks time I will be drawn onto the game-show conveyor belt of the Big Checks moving from blood draws to mammo and on to X-ray.  Next stop probably ultrasound. Then through the doors of Dr W2 and my score will be given to me.  Will I qualify for a bonus round?  CT  Scan? Bone Scan?  MRI? Or will I be allowed to step off the belt and slope away to tally the totals and take stock?  Who knows.  Of course I am afraid.

It is difficult to take time to relax and build my resilience ahead of these checks while all around me is so incredibly busy. Seeking balance continues to be prominent in my mind.  My head is full of such an assortment of competing callings. I am trying to carpe the diem and not to drown precious days in the mundane and the manic.  Kirsty reminded me last week to “take time to sniff the orchids”. Indeed, so much is gained from a pause to breathe in simple goodness.

Which takes me back to the narrow bridge I am on.  I know that I can’t not be afraid.  However, I also know that there are techniques and tricks, which I can muster to minimise fear and distract me, in the same way as I get myself across the suspension bridges in Nepal.

The toenail trick is one such. Although my toenails eloped with Taxotere for a bit, they are back if a bit ridged and ugly.  Prime material for a bit of bling!

When I developed my wish bucket, toenail art was one of the easier wishes to pick out and realise.  The first toenail art I had, I loved.  Delicate cherry blossom-like art on my toenails, painstakingly created by a skilled young nail artist.  (Now would that not be a great job to have?) funky toenail art

That was the first of many varied toenail art experiences, all of which I have loved perhaps with the exception of the one which should have featured starfish, but more resembled the stars and stripes! I have nothing against the US flag of course, but it would not necessarily be my first choice to sport on my toenails!

Having funky toenails is a very easy indulgence to fulfil and one which brings a disproportionate amount of simple pleasure.  The toenail trick guarantees distraction and has resulted in an unexpected amount of attention.  Perhaps I am a bit too old for this kind of toenail trivia but I do not care.  Toenail art is one of the best tricks in the book to bring things into perspective and bring stillness to calm the vertigo induced by the current dizzying busyness and pre-checks anxiety.

Life is too short not to have funky toenails!

Life is too short not to have funky toenails!

After all, is life not far too short, not to have funky toenails?

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow………

One of the things I missed most when I moved from Scotland to Asia, was snow.  I really missed it. When I was buried in the newness of breast cancer life, and burying myself in bloggery as a way of keeping a focus on moving forward and playing around with settings, I vaguely remember finding some function or gimmick which offered a special “snowing” feature for the month of December.  This gifts me the illusion of snowflakes falling on the blog page throughout the whole month of December.  How sweet.  Or how annoying.  And how northern-hemisphere-centric! Ever since then I am reminded of my rash “click here for December snow” action as it returns every year without fail and people ask me what is wrong with my screen!  I think I believed that this might be a nice way of remembering snow.  Now that I am in Myanmar, snow is even more distant with our hotter climate, usually dry winters and lush tropical vegetation.  Not a snowflake in sight, and no prospects of snow sighting.  So perhaps I felt that this would be a good way of maintaining my relationship with snow!

After leaving Scotland, and moving to Nepal I was particularly surprised at just how much I missed snow.  Of course, parts of Nepal do see snow, those famous Himalayas for example, but snow rarely fell in  the Kathmandu valley and certainly not while I was there.  One year there was a dusting of snow on the hills around the valley, and there was great excitement, cars driving up to the hills and then slithering around the roads as the drivers were not used to these conditions.  From the winter of 2000 right until after I left Nepal at the end of 2005 I only saw snow from a distance, picture postcard-like views of the Himal and their snow capped peaks.

himalaya

Beautiful, snowy snow.  But too far away to seem real.  No crunch of snow underfoot, no hypnotically mesmerising kaleidoscope of snow falling in front of my eyes, no smell of snow as it headed towards us, no sepia sky brimming with snowflakes, no trees with branches laden with heavy snow coverings.  No snow to touch or kick up as I walked. And I really missed it.

I missed it to the extent that I used to dream of snow.  Sweet nostalgia dreams, from which I would wake in a warm fuzzy mood, bathed in childhood like sentiment.  One dream has stayed with me very clearly.  I was standing at the edge of a field, covered in snow.  The snow was untouched, and I ran into the field revelling in the sensation of snow underfoot, and ridiculously excited at the fun I  was having.  I was aware, in my dream, of people watching me, with critical eyes as I stirred up the snow.  Clearly I was breaking some “don’t run in the field and  spoil the snow” rule. I remember clearly justifying my actions, and explaining that I had not seen snow for many years, and feeling a level of frustration that I was not understood.

It was to be the end of 2005 before I would experience snow again…………..

on horseback

Nepal has cold winters, and of course Scotland is not short of cold weather, but our transfer to Mongolia brought a new league of cold.  We arrived in mid November when temperatures were around -20C.  Phenomenally cold. Colder than I had ever experienced, although some very severe winters in Scotland had seen minus 10 – 15C.  However, the paralysing -20C was consistently labelled “pleasant autumn weather”.  A real signal of what we knew was ahead.

The temperatures drop rapidly as the short summer turns to winter, and for months sit well under freezing point. In December and January daytime temperatures would rise to around a balmy minus 35C with night time temperatures dropping to the high minus 40s.

in the afternoon sun -37C

Way beyond the experience of so many of us.  Read hard core cold.The rivers start to freeze over in October and by November you can safely walk across them. By December they are the winter roads.  By April, they are thawing again, a slow process melting layers of ice which can be metres thick, the sound of the ice cracking and creaking for weeks as slowly, gradually it melts.

 

springtime thaw

My walk to work was less than ten minutes, but in the early days in Mongolia, I found I would be running late every day because I drastically underestimated how long it would take to get dressed with all the needed layers.  My feet started hurting, and blisters appeared on my heels because I was not used to wearing closed shoes.  And even in the short walk to work, I discovered previously unknown fine hairs on my face thanks to them freezing rapidly when I stepped into the cold air.  Even though I was covered head to toe with only my eyes and upper face exposed.

We did not have to wait long for snow!  However, I soon realised that Mongolian snow is very different to Scottish snow. The climate is incredibly arid in Mongolia, and the cold accompanied by blue skies. Therefore, the Mongolian snow is powdery and fine, and tends to be a thin dusting more often than deep drifts. It is very difficult to make snowballs from dry, powdery snow, and this made me realise just how wet and slushy our Scottish snow tends to be!  But I could still smell it approaching, that unmistakeable scent of damp and cold all rolled into that unique snow smell.

We lived in Mongolia for just over a year, which meant we in effect experienced two winters.  The last snow of the outgoing winter fell in June on Ulaan Baatar, a light dusting and a respite until the first snow of the new winter which fell the last week of August. After five years of now snow, I truly caught up with my snow deficit. The pictures on this post are a tiny selection of images and memories of Mongolian winter.  I bought my first digital camera just before we left Nepal, and took around 4000 photos in Mongolia!  (The only photograph which is not my own is the first picture (above) of the Nepali Himalaya.)

Mongolia is rightly known as a land of horsemen and herders.

transport

And children learn to ride almost as soon as they can walk.

a winter ride

a winter ride3a winter ride 5

a winter ride 2

a winter ride4

The herders live in tough conditions, in mobile homes (gers) which move according to the season for the right grazing and shelter conditions for the animals.

ger

missing something interesting

favourite lamb

fetching water

traditional functional herder attire

Life in the countryside revolves around the livestock which includes camels, yak and goats as well as horses.

out for a wander

bactrian camel

As I sit here in the the only weeks of year which are vaguely cool in Yangon, surrounded by lush vegatation and unable to recall what that deep cold really feels like, it is nice to wallow a little in the memories of such a different place, with its wonderful snowy associations.

a winter ride3

And appreciate again the truly amazing experiences I have been fortunate to have.  And that is something that cancer can never steal from me.

There’s more to Twang than Twang Arm!

It is another Big Landmark Day today.  On 5 October 2009, I had the surgery which would confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer which makes it three years since my mastectomy, three years of extreme lopsidery and three years since Twang Arm came into my life.

There is no love lost between Twang Arm and myself and not an ounce of respect afforded in either direction.  So I want to upstage Twang Arm in a mischievous kind of way today.

The idea came to me the other evening, when I was preparing to go to my writing group. We had set ourselves an assignment and (as too often happens) I was delving into my writing archive to find something to take along.  So often as the day of the group approaches, either I am scrawling away at the eleventh hour trying to finish it, or conceding that I have not created anything fit enough to share and digging deep to find something from past writing.  As I had been out of Yangon, in the capital the previous week and into the weekend I had had even less free time to write, and I resorted to the archive.  I went back a number of years, to my time in Nepal when I found so much inspiration around me, observing little snippets of ordinary daily life, and sharing this.  I was rapidly enveloped in nostalgia re-reading the writing and remembering those numerous moments.  Very like our recent “celebrating the ordinary” challenge which Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer laid before us.

And I found this poem below, which I had written years ago and completely forgotten about. Memories flood back of the Kathmandu streets and the calls of what I termed the Twang Man”  as monsoon retreats and the cooling temperatures of the approaching winter.

The man with the strange twanging instrument

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of soft mud

swollen by endless weeks

of the season’s monsoon rain,

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them

Wheeling bikes

laden with fruit, vegetables, fish

to sell.

Bamboo mats, rice nanglos

small matted stools

for us to buy

empty rice sacks, bottles

to collect for a few rupees,

pressure cookers, gas stoves to mend.

A new noise

unfamiliar

competes with their calls

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Who is that man?

What does he carry

against his right shoulder?

A strange wooden object

with a music like string

which he plucks at

as he walks silently

along the lane

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Soon he is seated

in a neighbour’s yard

silently, patiently teasing

the wool filling of the winter quilts,

freeing them of their dampness

brought by the summer’s rains,

repairing them for the coming cold

readying them for their winter work

protecting young and old alike

from the penetrating night time chill.

As the rains slowly come to an end

the man who brings the twanging sound

visits so many streets, yards, homes

silently patiently

day by day

as the skies become clearer

and the cold creeps daily closer.

His work ensures that

each family will sleep

in the warmth and comfort

of the freshly repaired quilt.

In these short autumn weeks

shawls, woollen hats and socks

slowly appear on the city folk

as he readies them

for the night time cold.

In these short weeks

he must earn

enough to feed his family

for the coming months.

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of dried, cold, dusty earth

cracked by daytime sun and night time chill

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them.

Less one familiar sound

Twang!  Twang!  Twang!

 

Coincidentally this is also Twang Man’s season in Nepal, and if I close my eyes and let my mind drift to the Kathmandu streets I can hear his call.

Do butterflies get wet in the rain? My “other life”

It was Saturday morning and I was sitting listening to the monsoonal rains pounding the garden, the earth welcoming this drenching.

This was the time I had set aside to think about Marie’s suggestion in her blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer that we describe our non Breast Cancer “other” life.  I find that I protect areas of my “other life” when blogging, in particularly in relation to my family and work, and try and maintain their privacy.  So I was struggling a bit to decide what was appropriate to share.

Instead of focusing on the task in hand, I found that my mind was wandering and my attention being drawn to a little black and orange butterfly outside in the bushes beside the mango tree.  He was flittering around, doing his butterfly work and seemingly oblivious to the rain.  The rain was not as heavy as it had been earlier, so perhaps he had come out of a sheltered spot.  My mind was off on a completely different trail.  I just could not help wondering – does this little butterfly not get wet?  I know his life span is short, is it further threatened by such torrential rain?  I learned very young that butterflies are very fragile and that even a touch could destroy their wings and kill the butterfly.  So where does he hide when the rains at are their heaviest, when it is too wet for most beings?  Does he have a rest from his tasks and wait for the rains to ease?  Or is he destroyed, defenceless and exposed to the elements?

I found myself unable to contain my curiosity about the butterfly and the rain, and finally conceded, keying in my question and sending it to the Natural Science cousin of Dr Google.  I was relieved to learn that butterflies are pretty wise little beings and they take refuge under leaves, in hedges or in other sheltered spots and protect themselves from the damaging rain.  Kind of obvious really.  But that was just the start of a path of discovery of all sorts of interesting things about butterflies.  It really made me smile to learn that female butterflies have a really neat little manoeuvre if they want to avoid unwanted male attention.  They just fold their wings flat, and they become invisible!  Don’t you just love it when you find out something new like that, when you are not even looking?

And that’s when I realised that I had not been avoiding my reflection on my other life.  I had been living it, allowing my curiosity to pursue a puzzle and my imagination to take off unhindered.  In my “other life”, I am always unbearably reminding family, friends and colleagues that “you learn something new every day”.  It is something I find particularly pertinent in my professional role as in education programming. As an adviser, I am anxious not to appear condescending, or “know it all” as I guide and support programming.  If I can demonstrate that I learn something new every day, then it reinforces the importance of learning and being open to new knowledge throughout our lives as well as ensuring that we all have that same chance to do so.  Learning is not discriminatory if we can be open to it.

When I think of my “other life” I recognise that it is a composite of many “lives” and I know that these have all played a role in the building the present day “other life”.  Even so, often I find it hard to believe that I am in this place, in such a fascinating environment and professionally enriching space.  I met up with a friend several months ago, as we just happened to be passing through Bangkok airport at the same time.  I was travelling from Colombo to Yangon and she was heading from Delhi to Hanoi.  Two Glasgow girls!!  Incredibly we not only transited through the same city on the same day, but we did so in the same short 2 hour window.  We had a crazy, 15 minute, standing in the transit passageways, squealy excited rendez-vous before rushing off to catch our respective onward flights.  Being Scots, and from a similar background we both giggled like schoolgirls as we marvelled at where we were.  Neither of us could have imagined living such a seemingly exotic, and definitely exciting life.  Neither of us came from the conventional routes into this, and hard work had been the main route to where we were, as well as having the mettle to grasp exciting opportunities even though they appeared daunting.  Most striking though, was the fact that back then, I could never have dreamed that I would be living this life now.  I always had a fantasy of living overseas, but with home responsibilities, a lack of what I believed was relevant skills and experience, and no obvious opportunities, it was a distant and unlikely dream.

So how on earth did it actually become a reality?

I realise that I have had a relatively unorthodox life and career path even when I was Scotland-based.  I went to university when I was 30, as a mature student with demanding domestic responsibilities.  I studied modern languages because that meant that my family and I would have the chance to spend time abroad.  We lived in France for a year, and spent a term in Belarus a few months after its independence as what was the Soviet Union was collapsing.  Not the best setting to improve my Russian language (in a revival of Belarusian) but a fascinating experience.  Those university years were tough, especially financially, but we undoubtedly gained much from it.  After graduating, I took up an interesting position in international affairs and programming in local government.  A great mix of the previous community development experience I had before university, and my love of language and international work.  I loved bringing an international dimension into lives of people who otherwise would not have that experience, including artists with disabilities and school pupils from difficult backgrounds.

Family responsibilities changed as we approached the new millennium, and after my Trans
Siberian Train adventure
I spotted my “dream job” advertised in the newspaper.  An international agency was looking to hire overseas, field staff to manage the development programmes.  Incredibly and fortunately, my unorthodox mix of experience and skills seemed to provide what was needed and I was offered a position in the Nepal programme.

I had only been to Asia once when I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu in July 2000 to take up that new job.  I had no idea what to expect.  The work was new, the country was new, the organisation was new, the language was unknown to me.  It was simultaneously terrifying and utterly thrilling.  I knew that I was taking a risk, and that it might not work out.  I also knew though, that if I did not at least give it a try I would have massive regret for the rest of my life that I had lost such an opportunity.

The fact that I am still in Asia, 11 years later, and still enthusing about this life, speaks for itself.

The thing I love about my work, throughout the 5 ½ years in Nepal as well as the following contracts in Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka and now Myanmar, is that there is a wonderful mix of practical grassroots work with strategic level work.  I love spending time in communities in remote parts of the country, listening and learning about the challenges in these areas, and developing an understanding of the context.  This gives me the background I need to be able to work at a strategic level, to support work towards ensuring that all children have a chance to have a quality education.  I enjoy working with colleagues to feed into the bigger picture and ensure that our work is grounded and appropriate.  I love the fact that one day I might be in meetings with the UN or diplomatic level colleagues, and another I can be in a very remote village, accessible only by bullock cart, talking with parents about their children’s care and development.  I still find it hard to believe where I am.  There is not a day goes by that I am not humbled and thankful.

The cancer encounter happened after 9 years in Asia, and thankful as I am that I am currently in NED’s company and have been mostly able to pick up the pieces, I would be naive and wrong to assume that nothing has changed. If I have a recurrence, it is highly likely that I would have to give extremely careful thought to whether or not I could continue life and work overseas for financial as well as practical reasons.  All the more reason to value what I have. 

I am not going to dwell on that right now.  That cancer diagnosis is a fact, and it is why the biggest areas of my life found themselves relegated for a bit.  Now I trust that it is just one more component of what all goes together to make up My Life.